In his next missive, Daddy apologized for the harshness while still reaming my mother for even considering buying a new vehicle. My Grandfather Clay did come through and supply her with a car. I think it was the old Chevrolet we had with the turquoise vinyl interior and the “wings” on the back. Daddy told me once the reason they stopped making those cars back in the 60s was because of kids and skateboards. Kids were getting impaled on the wings.
“If you wish to join me say at summer’s end, or fall’s leafy catastrophe, you’d best arrange to nab back $325 or what not from the school and cancel out. The girl has only 2 years before grade school. She should have one of those free - perhaps 6 months of traveling and experience.”
In those early years, my father contributed gladly to my private school education, aligned with my mother on the decision to not send me through what she considered a horrible county school system at the time. He’d say things like, “If you owe any money to Salisbury School, send me the bill. I want to do it for the girl.” Then he sounded so optimistic that she and I would be joining him in Florida, canceling school and our lives in Maryland to be with him. I do kinda like the idea of six months of traveling and experience—but I was three years old after all.
My grandmother, June (left), great-grandfather (Pappap), Daddy and I
My mother and father dolled up for a Salisbury Wi-Hi reunion, standing in front of the fireplace at my grandparents' house, Crooked Oak Lane/Quantico Road
Planning for a future together that never came
The letters continue into early summer, plans being made for Grandfather Clay to drive up to Maryland to pick me up and bring me down to Fort Lauderdale to stay with them for a month. Precautions duly noted about the swimming pool that now had extra locks and doors so I couldn’t get into the pool alone.
Daddy wrote, “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since we talked, and I know that I do need you and want you and hopefully we can work something out in short time if you want to.” He offered to buy her a round-trip ticket to come down for two weeks and she could have privacy at the place in Boca and I could stay with my grandparents. He listed a bunch of record albums and advised her not to buy duplicates unless she planned to remain separate.
But maybe the next sentence didn’t exactly win my mother over.
“Only thing new is my drinking has tapered off this week. Sunday Ray and I took truck to ocean; he two fifths of wine and I did in seven quarts of beer. He threw up magnificently in front of a liquor store and I annihilated myself internally—system was lousy for three days. I’ve only had a 6-pack all week. Take care of yourself, Doll. Give the Pooh a kiss for me. I love you, Ed.”
At my great-grandparents' house at 53 Franklin Road in Newport News, Virginia
Daddy and I, Grandmother and Grandfather Clay, Pappap and Mammonk
LSD, dolphins and such
Through my summer visit to Florida, the letters continued, along with invitations to my mother to come down to Lauderdale to visit or perhaps even relocate. In Miami Daddy went to see Blue Oyster Cult, John Hammond, Alex Taylor, Allman Brothers Band—a benefit for the World Dolphin Foundation.
In the early 70s, people were becoming more aware of the slaughter of dolphins and the inhumanity of captivity, thanks to Ric O’Barry, former trainer of Flipper from the TV show. His work on the set of Flipper prompted his awakening to the ills of captivity and he went on to start The Dolphin Project, receiving significant backing from musician Stephen Stills, of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, who liked what Barry was up to. The Dolphin Project was the first to bring global attention to drive-hunting of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, and the organization continues to bring awareness to the cruelty of captivity.
Ric O’Barry’s best friend was a guy named Fred Neil, a folk singer-songwriter probably best known for “Everybody’s Talkin’” from the movie Midnight Cowboy. A song he wrote that came out in 1966 called “The Dolphins” was later covered by Tim Buckley in a soulful version that’s riveting and heart-aching. (“Listen to Tim Buckley’s ‘Goodbye and Hello,’” my father encouraged in one letter written to my brother Jeffrey in later years.)
From his earlier musings about dolphins, I wonder if they were something of a spirit animal for my father. Frolicking and free, exploring and adventuring—and trying to escape drag-fishing nets that would entrap them or kill them.
Years later, Daddy got a dolphin tattoo on his upper left bicep. Jeffrey remembers one old Pontiac where Daddy mounted two diving dolphins in place of the hood ornament. That’s what Daddy would call “some real Clay class,” akin to stuffing his sock with leftover steamed Blue crabs at the all-you-can-eat restaurant or perhaps breaking wind at the dining room table.
Aside from supporting dolphin rescue and rehab at the concert, my father wrote he’d been “zonked” on acid and had been doing a tab a week of Purple Haze while enjoying Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
A letter dated July 3, 1972, has FUURTHER written across the top in Ken Kesey bus fashion.
“Luscious o’ Cassady in the school bus, Edward in his blue bus, gears churning like molten butter. Whee! My head and that book are two parallel movies. I think I shall get it all together through Cassady’s inspiration. The girl and I both miss mommy.”
Lest anyone think my father was tripping his ass off on acid while I was in his care, it’s highly doubtful. I always stayed with my grandparents when I was down in Florida. Daddy would come and go, as I remember it, always having to leave for work. I don’t even remember if he spent nights on the sofa while I was there. Most of my early Florida memories are of my grandmother and grandfather, not so much of time spent with him.
My Grandfather Clay, Pappap, and Grandmother and I
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